See also: Sargasso



Sargasso seaweed (sense 1) washed up on a beach
Sargasso (sense 1) of an unspecified species of Sargassum in the Sargasso Sea

From Portuguese sargaço ((originally) the Lisbon false sun-rose or woolly rock rose (Halimium lasianthum); (now) gulfweed, sargasso),[1] from Latin salicastrum (kind of wild vine found in willow-thickets), from salix (plant of the genus Salix; willow) + -astrum (suffix forming nouns expressing incomplete resemblance). Salix is derived from Proto-Indo-European *sl̥H-ik- (willow). The English word is cognate with French sargasse, Spanish sargazo.[2]

The capitalized form of sense 2 (“a confused, tangled mass or situation”), Sargasso, is probably a reference to the Sargasso Sea.



sargasso (plural sargassos or sargassoes)

  1. A brown alga, of the genus Sargassum, that forms large, floating masses.
    Synonyms: gulfweed, sargasso weed, sargassum
    • [1724, N[athan] Bailey, “SARGASSO”, in An Universal Etymological English Dictionary: [], 2nd edition, London: Printed for E. Bell, J. Darby, [], OCLC 819943732, column 2:
      SARGASSO, the Sea-Lentile.]
    • 1785 April, “Arctic Zoology. 2 Vols. [] [book review]”, in The Critical Review: Or, Annals of Literature, volume LIX, London: Printed for A. Hamilton, [], OCLC 1015384402, page 248:
      Thus the productions of Jamaica, and other places bordering on the gulph of Mexico, may be firſt brought by the ſtream out of the gulph, inveloped in the ſargaſſo or alga of the gulph round Cape Florida, and hurried by the current either along the American ſhore, or ſent into the ocean in the courſe along the ſtream, and then by the ſet of the ſtream; and the prevailing winds, which generally blow two-thirds of the year, wafted to the ſhores of Europe, where they are found.
    • 1826, James L[awson] Drummond, “Of the Root (Radix)”, in First Steps to Botany, Intended as Popular Illustrations of the Science, Leading to Its Study as a Branch of General Education, 2nd edition, London: Printed for Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, [], OCLC 12069798, page 31:
      A number of cryptogamic plants swim about at random in the waters, among which the most interesting, perhaps, in our present state of knowledge, is the sargasso, or gulf-weed of voyagers (Fucus natans), which is found in the Gulph of Florida, and some other parts of the ocean floating in masses or fields, many miles in length.
    • 1832 June, “[Maritime Papers, Reviews of Voyages, &c.] I.—Sargasso Weed.”, in The Nautical Magazine: A Journal of Papers on Subjects Connected with Maritime Affairs in General, volume I, number 4, London: Brown, Son and Ferguson, OCLC 1015502792, page 175:
      It is well known to seamen, and others who have crossed the Atlantic ocean, that a certain part of that sea is generally covered more or less with a particular species of weed, called gulf-weed, but the reason of its accumulating there, and its origin, have given rise to much difference of opinion. [...] [T]he part of the ocean in which it is found is usually called the Sargasso sea. The Sargasso weed is also familiarly called tropical grapes, from being found in the vicinity of the northern tropic, but it is most generally known by the name of Sargasso or gulf-weed.
    • 1864, M[atthew] F[ontaine] Maury, “The Gulf Stream”, in The Physical Geography of the Sea, and Its Meteorology, 11th revised edition, London: Sampson Low, Son & Marston, [], OCLC 1015386978, § 140, page 50:
      There is no warm current, or if one, a very feeble one, flowing out of the South Atlantic. Most of the drift matter borne upon the ice-bearing current into that sea finds its way to the equator, and then into the veins which give volume to the Gulf Stream, and supply the sargasso of the North Atlantic with extra quantities of drift. The sargassos of the South Atlantic are therefore small.
    • 1934 November, Rudolf Ruedemann, “Faunas of Littoral Seaweeds and of Sargasso-seas”, in Paleozoic Plankton of North America (Geological Society of America Memoir; 2), [Washington, D.C.]: Published by the Society, OCLC 1047698879, part I, page 18:
      The fauna of the modern floating sargasso-meadows is composed of highly specialized and unique species of pelagic animals. [...] The community of organisms which is found in these sargasso-flotillas is described in the report on the Challenger Expedition by C[harles] Wyville Thomson.
    • 1977, Italo Calvino, “The Waverer’s Tale”, in William Weaver, transl., The Castle of Crossed Destinies: Translated from the Italian, London: Secker & Warburg, →ISBN, part 2 (The Tavern of Crossed Destinies); republished London: Vintage Books, 1997, →ISBN, page 62:
      This is the answer to the choice of the man who does not choose: now he does indeed have the sea, he plunges into it headlong, swaying among the corals of the depths, Hanged by his feet in the sargassoes that hover half-submerged beneath the ocean's opaque surface, and his green seaweed hair brushes the steep ocean beds.
    • 1998 February, E[laine] L[obl] Konigsburg, The View from Saturday (A Jean Karl Book), 1st Aladdin Paperbacks edition, New York, N.Y.: Aladdin Paperbacks, →ISBN, page 55:
      For the next five to ten years, they [turtles] will stay in the Sargasso Sea, feeding off the small sea animals that live in the floating mats of sargasso grass.
  2. (figuratively) Also Sargasso: a confused, tangled mass or situation.
    • 1981, David Chaffetz, “On Pilgrimage”, in A Journey through Afghanistan: A Memorial, Chicago, Ill.: Regnery Gateway, →ISBN; new edition, Chicago, Ill.; London: University of Chicago Press, 2001, →ISBN, page 94:
      Afghanistan is a sargasso of wrecks from earlier civilizations; buried in its earth are hordes of Greek coins, Aramaic inscriptions, Saljuq mosques, and Mazdakite fire temples, flaking away in their own dust, forgotten in valleys where the local villagers carry away their bricks for cattle folds.
    • 2005, Aaron Barlow, “Reel Toads and Imaginary Cities: Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner and the Contemporary Science Fiction Movie”, in Will Brooker, editor, The Blade Runner Experience: The Legacy of a Science Fiction Classic, New York, N.Y.: Wallflower Press, published by Columbia University Press, →ISBN, section 1 (The Cinema of Philip K. Dick), page 58:
      His [Philip K. Dick's] ideas provide diegetic anchors for digitally oriented directors [...] whose works might otherwise float off into a Sargasso of insignificance.
    • 2007, Steve Erickson, chapter 68, in Zeroville: A Novel, New York, N.Y.: Europa Editions, →ISBN; republished New York, N.Y.: Open Road Media, 2013, →ISBN:
      In Viking Man's apartment, a large closet he's made into a movie library is strewn with reels of film. The reels have spooled into a sargasso of celluloid; a projector stares from the end of the closet.
    • 2007, Michael Jackson, “On Birth, Death, and Rebirth”, in Excursions, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, →ISBN, page 192:
      All night on the plane, I had slept fitfully, my mind clogged with a Sargasso of floating memories and disconnected images—from when I lived in New Zealand or first went to Sierra Leone.
    • 2013, Robert Olen Butler, chapter 14, in The Star of Istanbul: A Christopher Marlowe Cobb Thriller, New York, N.Y.: The Mysterious Press, →ISBN:
      And so we floated. And later some crewmen got to a collapsible lifeboat that had drifted off right-side up, and they were able to raise and lash the steel-framed canvas sides, and then men began to pick the living from the vast sargasso of bodies, and they found us.
  3. (biology, oceanography) A part of an ocean or sea characterized by floating masses of sargassos, like the Sargasso Sea.
    • 1864, M[atthew] F[ontaine] Maury, “Book VI”, in Physical Geography for Schools and General Readers, London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, & Green, OCLC 23066979, § 225, pages 100–101:
      Of Sargassos or Weedy Seas. [...] [T]he most remarkable of them all, is that in the North Atlantic. [Christopher] Columbus passed through it on his first voyage of discovery to America. [] The sargassos of the southern hemisphere are not so well marked as this, nor are they as rich in drift or floating matter.
    • 1971, Doris Lessing, Briefing for a Descent into Hell, London: Jonathan Cape, →ISBN; republished New York, N.Y.: Bantam Books, August 1972, →ISBN, page 6:
      [H]eld safe and sound, I'd find the South Equatorial at last, at last, and safe from all the Sargassoes, the Scillas and Charibs, I'd swoop beautifully and lightly, drifting with the sweet currents of the South down the edge of the Brazilian Highlands to the Waters of Peace.
    • 1985, Eduardo Galeano, Memory of Fire: Part One of a Trilogy, New York, N.Y.: Pantheon Books, →ISBN; quoted in Howard Zinn; Anthony Arnowe, “Columbus and Las Casas”, in Voices of a People’s History of the United States, 2nd edition, New York, N.Y.: Seven Stories Press, 2004, →ISBN, page 45:
      Feverish eyes of mariners weatherbeaten in a thousand voyages, burning eyes of jailbirds yanked from Andalusian prisons and embarked by force: these eyes see no prophetic reflections of gold and silver in the foam of the waves, nor in the country and river birds that keep flying over the ships, nor in the green rushes and branches thick with shells that drift in the sargassos.
    • [2004, Lee Hammock, “Open Sea”, in Into the Blue, [s.l.]: Bastion Press, →ISBN, page 44, column 1:
      Few storms trouble a sargasso region, and rain rarely falls there even during the spring seasons. These conditions help create massive beds of floating vegetation, dominated by kelps and a weed called sargassum. [...] Of all the regions of the open sea, sargassos are the ones with the highest biological density, and potentially the most dangerous.
      A description of a role-playing game.]

Derived termsEdit

Related termsEdit



  1. ^ Guido Gómez de Silva (1988) Breve Diccionario Etimológico de la Lengua Española, Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, →ISBN, page 627.
  2. ^ sargasso, n.”, in OED Online  , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1909.

Further readingEdit



Borrowed from French sargasse, from Portuguese sargaço, from Latin salicastrum, derived from salix (willow).


  • IPA(key): /sarˈɡ
  • Rhymes: -asso
  • Hyphenation: sar‧gàs‧so


sargasso m (plural sargassi)

  1. sargasso, gulfweed


  • sargasso in – Vocabolario Treccani on line, Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana